You may recall the SmartBird, a robot we saw back in March that mimics the flight of birds, flapping its wings like the real thing. The video we saw then was a bit too edited to get a feel for the bot, but luckily one of the inventors was invited to do a TED talk, and of course they had to set the thing free in the auditorium.
Check out the video:
[ted id=1195 width=640]
Markus Fischer, the speaker, describes a few finer points and demonstrates the simplicity of their motor and wing system on a skeletal model. It’s really very cool. Unfortunately they are likely limited by the capacity of the batteries they can take on board, which, being heavy, increase the power required to stay aloft, which means more battery capacity is needed… and so on. The bird flies for around 50 seconds in the demonstration, but much longer in these other videos (outside, with curious real birds).
I’m curious as to whether they’ve considered alternative energy sources; they seem to be well-provided with space inside the bird chassis, and a strong but lightweight coil or spring might provide a better power to weight ratio. Batteries are optimized for volume, not weight, so if there’s room to expand, they can take a hit on joules per cm3 but shave a few grams off the total.